15 great train trips from Los Angeles

San Diego boats

With five Amtrak routes arriving and departing from Los Angeles Union Station, and more than 70 Amtrak stations just in California, there are a variety of options for rail vacations. You can travel along the California coast on the Pacific Surfliner, journey to the Pacific Northwest on the Coast Starlight, and see the desert on the Southwest Chief.

Some destinations are easier to get to than others, and the cities below all have good departure and arrival times from L.A. along with stunning scenery and fun things to do.

Note that destinations on the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited route were not included because the westbound trains arrive in Los Angeles bright and early at 5:30 a.m. If that time is doable for you, be sure to check out the stops on these routes for more trip ideas (including Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Tucson and New Orleans).

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara
Photo by Eugene Zelenko

Santa Barbara is about 3 hours away from Los Angeles on the train, making the beautiful city an easy one-night getaway, or stay longer to really experience the area. There is a zoo, harbor, wharf, bike path, coastal park and historic mission to explore. Plus, wine is top attraction that adults can enjoy locally or on a day trip.

When booking your tickets, you can choose between a Pacific Surfliner or Coast Starlight train (the Coast Starlight has roomettes and bedrooms if you want privacy). There are a few hotels and Airbnbs you can walk to from the Amtrak station, and you can use Uber or Lyft to get around so a car rental isn’t required.

San Diego

San Diego skyline
Photo by dirkhansen/Flickr.com

San Diego has something for everyone. There are many festivals, concerts and other events that you can plan a trip around. Plus you can party in the Gaslamp Quarter, cruise the harbor, visit the world-famous San Diego Zoo, explore Balboa Park, experience the USS Midway Museum and shop at Seaport Village.

Most attractions are a short walk or Lyft/Uber ride away from the Santa Fe Depot. There is also a ferry to Coronado Island, trolleys and Coaster commuter trains if you want to see more of the area without a car.

Several rental car companies have offices near the Amtrak station, so it’s easy to rent a car if desired. La Jolla is a 20-minute drive away from downtown, and SeaWorld and water sport activities in Mission Bay are only 10 minutes away.

For your departure and return Amtrak trips, there are multiple Pacific Surfliner trains that travel between L.A. and San Diego each day to choose from. Departures start as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 9 p.m.

Grover Beach

Grover Beach
Photo by ECTran71/Wikimedia

Great for the whole family, Grover Beach is a small community with a great beach, dunes nature preserve, winery, escape room, ATV rentals and more. The Pacific Surfliner arrives around 8 p.m. in walking distance of downtown and an Enterprise car rental office (closes at 6 p.m., so plan to get a car on the next day). There are a few motels in walking distance from the Amtrak station, or explore Airbnb options. A large number of hotels are also short drive away at Pismo Beach, where you’ll find outlet stores.

Plan to stay at least two nights as the return train to L.A. departs around 7:15 a.m.

San Luis Obispo

Edna Valley Vineyard
Photo by Harold Litwiler

San Luis Obispo is a great family getaway or a wine trip that’s 5.5 hours away from L.A. Downtown there is a children’s museum, railroad museum, historic mission, and a charming trail along a creek. For adults, there are many wineries in the area (the Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards has peacocks). Choose from the many wine tours, including with SLO Safe Ride, so you don’t have to drink and drive. With a rental car, you can visit Morro Bay State Park, Dinosaur Caves Park, and hike at Valencia Peak and Bishop Peak (both have amazing views).

There is an Enterprise near the Amtrak station; call ahead and make sure they can pick you up from the train station with a car reservation. You’ll also need to make arrangements to stay overnight in San Luis Obispo at least one night. There are hotels downtown and near the ocean. For the return trip to L.A., you choose a Pacific Surfliner or Coast Starlight train. The Coast Starlight offers the best departure time back to L.A., but book your trip early as seats can sell out on this train.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles Countryside
The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress

Paso Robles is a fantastic option for a wine vacation. There are some activities for families, but overall, this destination is best for an adult trip. Visiting wineries is the top thing to do, and there are more than 200 to choose from. Be sure to check out the wine tours and shuttles. Rental cars are also an option with Enterprise. Due to the 6.5 hour train commute and one daily Coast Starlight train, you’ll need to stay overnight at least one night.

San Jose

Santana Row in San Jose
Photo by Eric Fredericks

San Jose is an urban getaway that is 10 to 11 hours away on the Coast Starlight depending on the direction of travel. The SAP Center (concerts and NHL hockey games) is in walking distance of the Amtrak station along with Arena Green West park. Other top attractions include the Municipal Rose Garden, Santana Row commercial district (pictured above), Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, and Happy Hollow Park and Zoo.

Trains depart Los Angeles and San Jose mid-morning, so one overnight stay in San Jose is doable if that works best with your schedule.

Oakland/San Francisco

Jack London Square in Oakland, California
Photo by Basil D Soufi

Visit the Bay Area with an Amtrak trip to Oakland on the Coast Starlight. You’ll arrive Jack London Square (pictured above), and you can walk to the ferry that will take you to San Francisco. If you stay in Oakland, check out the Oakland Museum of California, Oakland Zoo, Chabot Space & Science Center, Children’s Fairyland theme park and the local food scene.

Travel time on the train is 11 to 12 hours. Be sure to book tickets to the Jack London Square station (there are multiple Oakland stations to choose from). Trains arrive in the evening and return to L.A. in the morning, so booking accommodations in the city for two nights is best in order to have a full day in Oakland (or San Francisco).

Albuquerque

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
Image by Lyssa Scott from Pixabay

Head to Albuquerque, New Mexico on the Southwest Chief for a trip full of outdoor and cultural activities. Top attractions include Sandia Peak Tramway for panoramic views of the area, Indian Pueblo Cultural CenterNational Museum of Nuclear Science and the Petroglyph National Monument. There’s also a zoobotanic garden and trails along the Rio Grande River.

Consider planning your trip around the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which is a top event in the fall.

The Southwest Chief departs daily from L.A. in the early evening and arrives in Albuquerque 16.5 hours later. You’ll spend one night on the train, and we recommend staying one night in Albuquerque. The train back to L.A. departs late afternoon.

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Las Vegas, New Mexico
Photo by Kent Kanouse

Book a trip to Las Vegas, New Mexico (not Nevada) for an old west experience. It’s a 20-hour, overnight Amtrak trip, and you’ll arrive in the walkable downtown area in the afternoon. One of the most historic things in town is the Castaneda Hotel next to the Amtrak station. It is one of the few remaining “Harvey Houses” that were built along railroads at the turn of the century.

It may be difficult to get a rental car, so walking the city or checking out Southwest Detours tours might be your best option for getting around. You’ll need to stay at least one night; the return train to Los Angeles departs around noon each day.

Klamath Falls, Oregon

Photo by Erin (Flickr.com/lance_mountain)

Klamath Falls is a 22-hour train trip from Los Angeles. The morning arrival means you can start enjoying the nearby lakes, rivers and waterfalls early in the day. Upper Klamath Lake has a canoe trail, or head to Moore Park and the Link River Trail for waterfront hiking and bird-watching.

For the more adventurous crowd, there’s whitewater rafting on the Klamath River or choose from several mountain bike trails. You can bring bikes on Amtrak, or check out Zach’s Bikes for rentals.

The Klamath Fall Amtrak station is in walking distance of downtown restaurants, a few hotels and an Enterprise Rent-A-Car office. The return train to L.A. departs at night, so you could technically just spend a day here, then get back on the train to sleep.

Trinidad, Colorado

Trinidad, Colorado
Photo by Scrubhiker/Flickr.com

Travel through the New Mexico desert and mountains to reach Trindad, Colorado. The scenery from the train is one the main reasons to book this rail trip. The Southwest Chief arrives around dinnertime and returns to L.A. in the morning, so you can stay just one night, but if you want to explore the town (besides going out to dinner), plan to stay two.

Rental cars are hard to find, so you might need to walk to local attractions, such as the Trinidad History Museum and A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art. The museums, along with restaurants and hotels, are about a 10-minute walk from the Amtrak station. Travel time on the train is 23.5 hours each way.

Eugene, Oregon

Eugene Oregon
Photo by Maciek Lulko

Take an overnight trip to Eugene, Oregon, which is 28 hours away from Los Angeles on Amtrak. It’s a great location for getting out in nature with the Williamette River bike trail, Mount Pisgah natural area, McKenzie River National Recreation Trail and Skinner Butte Park. You can also attend a University of Oregon football game, visit the Cascades Raptor Center or go to a show at the Hult Center of Performing Arts.

Trains arrive midday and return to L.A. around 5 p.m., so you could stay one night and have enough time to experience some of the city. The Amtrak station is conveniently in walking distance of Skinner Butte Park and downtown hotels and restaurants (including many local and Asian options), so you don’t have to rent a car. There is an Enterprise Rent-A-Car office nearby in case you want to explore more of the area, or use rideshare services and bike rentals to get around.

Tip: If you depart Los Angeles on Friday, you’ll arrive in time to hang out at the Eugene Saturday Market, which has live music, food and artisan vendors selling local goods.

Portland, Oregon

Portland Oregon Skyline
Photo by Jeff Hintzman/Flickr.com

One hour further up the coast from Eugene on the train, Portland is full of great street food, breweries, unique restaurants and formal gardens. As Oregon’s largest city, there’s also many festivals to check out all year long, such as the International Film Festival, UFO Festival, Oregon Brewers Festival, Waterfront Blues Festival, Cathedral Park Jazz Festival and many food events.

Amtrak trains arrive and depart from Portland in the afternoon via Portland Union Station. You can easily walk to a light rail stop or to downtown, plus Lyft and Uber are options. If you really want to experience the great outdoors, rent a car and drive about one hour to reach the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Seattle

Downtown Seattle streetcar
Image by Jake Ripp from Pixabay

Almost 34 hours away from L.A. on the Coast Starlight train, Seattle is a cultural urban getaway with many attractions and activities to explore. Grab a coffee and stroll through the famous Pike Place Market, visit the Chihuly Gardens, Museum of Flight, or head to Kerry Park for stunning skyline views of the city.

The train arrives around 8 p.m., and there’s various transportation options in the city once you arrive at the Seattle Amtrak Station. A light rail station is across the street, or take Uber, Lyft or ferry to get around. Plan to stay at least two nights, as the return train to Los Angeles departs in the morning. For cheaper hotel rates, consider an early fall trip.

Chicago

Chicago skyline with Willis Tower
Photo courtesy Wikimedia

For a cross-country journey, book tickets on the Southwest Chief for a 43-hour trip to Chicago. You’ll spend two nights on the train and arrive in Chicago in the late afternoon, with views of deserts, mountains and the Great Plains along the way.

In Chicago, there are many museums, live music venues and attractions to explore, including the Willis Tower Skydeck, Navy Pier and Wrigley Field. In the warmer months, you can also visit one of the city’s beaches or take a bike ride along the Lakefront Trail. CTA city trains, Metra commuter trains, water taxis and Lyft/Uber are easy ways to see the sights, so you don’t need to rent a car.

You’ll need to stay in Chicago at least one night, with the option to fly back to California or ride the Southwest Chief or Texas Eagle Amtrak train back to Los Angeles. Note that the Texas Eagle trip from Chicago to L.A. takes about 66 hours, but you’ll see different scenery and cities on this route.

More Information

Top photo credit: Image by Steven Cox from Pixabay (San Diego sunrise)

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